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Naval architects: designers of your dream yachts

Naval architects: designers of your dream yachts

Creating construction plans

Once the construction contract is signed, the race is on to complete the detailed package of construction drawings that will precisely define every welded plate, every varnished bulkhead, every polished stainless rail and every etched marble panel that goes into the yacht.

Seldom is this done by a single architectural studio, but rather is a team effort by the architect, builder and numerous vendors. Nevertheless, the architect remains centrally responsible for the end result, and must thus keep an ever-vigilant eye on the builder’s progress. So just how does the naval architect assure that success? ‘Our goal is to satisfy the client, not ourselves,’ says Holland, ‘We don’t have a house style. The problem is the designer not listening to the owner – that’s where the battles originate.’

For Ward Setzer, an independent naval architect based in the US, the best relationships are based on clearly defining the clients’ expectations in a scope of supply.

‘Specifically,’ he says, ‘you must show by way of examples the depth of detail they should expect to receive. Then if they wish for more or less, we can adjust so no one will be unhappy with the end results. Communication – clear, regular and precise – is the key to success.’

There is a time when it is appropriate for the architect to contradict the owner which, according to Holland, is ‘when the boat doesn’t make sense technically’. He notes, though, that architects, himself included, must sometimes be pulled from their comfort zone by a progressive owner when the architect’s objections are simply tradition-based rather than founded on any sound technical basis.

‘Client expectations are that their needs are being understood, that they are getting value for money, that the builder and architect are communicating openly and clearly with them,’ adds Miner. ‘The process of creating a yacht is not unlike a marriage. Mutual commitment results in mutual obligations. Both parties have to feel that they are being treated fairly. And the idea is to enjoy the relationship.’

Indeed, the words trust, commitment, open dialogue, respect, involvement, personal and family pop up so often when talking with naval architects that it’s not surprising to learn that the architect and client often end up as life-long friends. Not only do they collaborate on future projects but also take an interest in each other’s lives on a personal basis. It is perhaps not Miner’s marriage, but at least a committed relationship.

Evolution of the naval architect

So has the role of the naval architect really changed?

‘My career as a naval architect started 25 years ago,’ says Sergio Cutolo of Hydro Tec, ‘and I personally think that the role hasn’t really changed. There are big differences, however, in the yachting industry.

‘Firstly, when I started in 1986 I worked for Baglietto which was the only Italian yard in the yachting industry to have its own technical department headed by a naval architect, and we designed our boats from the hull lines to structures and right down to the engine room and piping systems.

‘Secondly, 25 years ago, 40m was considered a large yacht.

‘Thirdly, there are the Rules, particularly MCA and similar relating to commercial yachts. So I would turn the question around, and ask “Have the great changes in the yachting industry required a deeper involvement of professional naval architects in the design of large yachts?”, and my answer would be a definite yes.’

Originally published: May 2011.

BMT Nigel Gee

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